October Belongs to ESPN, TBS

Buttressed by stellar Monday Night Football deliveries, ESPN nailed down its second consecutive monthly ratings race. Through Oct. 31, the sports network averaged 3.62 million total viewers in prime time, a 3 percent decline from its year-ago delivery (3.72 million).

Per Nielsen ratings data, ESPN swept the three core TV demos, drawing 1.82 million viewers 18-49 (a decrease of 3 percent versus October 2009), while serving up 1.81 million adults 25-54, down 4 percent from 1.89 million. The net aged down slightly, averaging 895,000 viewers 18-34, a 5 percent improvement from its year-ago number.

ESPN closed out the month on a high note, as the Oct. 25 installment of MNF delivered a hair under 18 million viewers (17.95 million). The Giants-Cowboys telecast now stands as the fourth most-watched program in cable history, trailing three other MNF games: Eagles-Cowboys in September 2008 (18.6 million), Patriots-Saints in December 2009 (21.4 million), and Brett Bowl I, the Packers-Vikings grudge match that scared up an all-time high 21.8 million fans last October.

Through the first seven weeks (eight games), ESPN’s MNF is averaging just under 15 million viewers (14.96 million), flat versus the same time a year ago. That average would be significantly higher if not for an unpromising Oct. 18 Titans-Jaguars match-up that devolved into a 30-3 blowout. The AFC South mugging also went head-to-head with Game 3 of the MLB American League Championship Series on TBS; despite all that, the game still drew an entirely respectable 9.67 million viewers. (Yankees-Rangers averaged 8.21 million that same night.)
On the month, MNF accounted for five of the top 10 most-watched programs on basic cable. The Sept. 27 Bears-Packers brawl drew 17.5 million viewers, while Wrangler pitchman/texting enthusiast Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings fell to the New York Jets on Oct. 11 in front of a national TV audience of 17.3 million fans.
As was the case a year ago, professional sporting events were the primary ratings driver in October. TBS got on the leader board four times with its coverage of the American League Championship Series, while sibling net TNT secured a spot in the upper echelon with its presentation of the NBA season opener (Miami-Boston).

The six-game Yankees-Rangers series helped steer TBS to a second-place sweep of the demos. The Turner net averaged 1.41 million adults 25-54 on the month, down 7 percent from a year ago, while viewers 18-49 dropped 10 percent to 1.42 million. All told, TBS averaged 3.04 million viewers, marking a decline of 6 percent from its October 2009 delivery (3.23 million).

Capping its fourth season of October baseball, TBS hit its biggest number of the ALCS on Oct. 22. The Rangers’ elimination of the Yankees drew 11.9 million viewers, marking the second-largest audience in the network’s 34-year history of TBS. (The sixth and deciding game of the 2010 ALCS trails only Game 7 of the Rays-Red Sox ALCS of two years ago (13.4 million).

Over the course of the ALCS, TBS averaged 8.22 million total viewers, up 36 percent from last season’s NLCS showdown between the Phillies and Dodgers and an improvement of 10 percent versus the seven-game Rays-Red Sox battle in 2008.
USA Network took third place, averaging 2.76 million total viewers, a 4 percent dip compared to last October’s 2.88 million. Although the network saw declines in the demos, USA retained third among the two biggies, drawing 1.11 million adults 25-54 (down 12 percent) and 1.02 million viewers 18-49 (down 13 percent from its year-ago 1.17 million).

USA got the biggest lift of the month on Monday, Oct. 4, as its wrestling franchise, WWE Raw, averaged 4.78 million viewers between 9 p.m. and 11:08 p.m.  (The network’s year-ago numbers were boosted by new episodes of Monk, which at the time was halfway through its eighth and final season, and the series premiere of White Collar.)